Rural Notes 16



Most vets greet Autumn with a slight sense of trepidation. On the farm side, the next month will see many farms house cattle, and this is often associated with respiratory disease. Pneumonia is much commoner in cattle than many readers might imagine, and the majority of cases will happen between now and Christmas. but in store cattle to house over the winter and feed up.

The delivery of schools exam results last month will have been preceded by the fullest range of emotions by school pupils, parents and teachers alike. Excitement, dread, anticipation good and anticipation bad; all will have been superseded when the envelopes containing the results were opened and the results of Highers, Advanced Highers and A-Levels were revealed. For aspiring veterinary surgeons, the results are usually definitive as most pupils will already be sitting on conditional offers by the time their results are opened and consequently the required standards and grades will either have been met or not in the recent exams.

The profession is quite unusual in the extent to which it involves itself with mentoring aspiring school children and we share more than a little of the emotional fallout which exam results week brings. I cannot think of many other jobs where there is the same level of interest in career pursuit from pupils, nor, to be frank, the level of accommodation of pupils from individuals and businesses which operate within that sphere of interest. Practices like ours will generally speaking have school students on site virtually the whole year round, giving them exposure to what the job entails and encouraging them to consider aspects and avenues within the profession which they might not have considered before.

Children have wanted ‘to be a vet’ in their droves, ever since James Heriot romanticised the job (beyond all recognition!) in the 70’s, but they have also wanted to be pilots, policemen, doctors, soldiers, firemen, lorry drivers and barristers. All of these represent vocational careers, which pupils can identify with, and which consequently attract interest from an early age. However, I suspect that none of the above are as inundated with appeals for Work Experience placements, nor will any be so indulgent of these requests, as the veterinary profession.

I suppose it is true to say that most of us never meet pilots or barristers or firemen in the course of their doing their job, whereas anyone taking a pet to the vet does meet the vet. Nonetheless, we do tend to see ourselves as being a part of the community every bit as much as being a service provider and a business. This is coupled with the fact that we treat our patients, but we engage with our clients; that is to say our patients rarely have issues of privacy or sensitivity, and their owners, our clients, are rarely distressed at the prospect of a student’s presence. Clearly, this would not and could not be the case with doctors and barristers.

At Links Vet Group, in common with many private practices up and down the country, we receive requests on an almost daily basis for the opportunity to ‘volunteer’ for Work Experience, Seeing Practice and Extra Mural studies, from youngsters hoping to gain some exposure to the job and which might place university applicants at some competitive advantage when seeking a place on a course, and better equip university students for their practical examinations. This is a very flattering position to be in and suggests that the future of the profession is bright, at least in terms of drafting in potential new members and ensuring there is an adequate supply of vets for the country’s needs. (Sadly, though not appropriate subject matter for celebrating student achievements, it seems the authorities have greatly overestimated veterinary demand, and we are currently producing many more vets than are currently required.)

It does however bring various challenges for us to manage. The commonest by far is the mismatch between parental understanding of their children’s ambitions, and the actual ambitions of the child. It seems to me that children are usually very honest when talking us, but fear they will ‘disappoint’ their parents if they admit to them that their future plans have changed and they no longer wish to pursue a veterinary career. Even in these situations, we feel our input is positive, as it can help clarify wavering doubts one way or another.

It’s fair to say that the work experience student engages with life in the profession from the bottom up. Literally, at times. Our Head Nurse, Sue, is revered by those who successfully pass through her tutelage and proceed to study as a vet or a nurse. Every student who has gained Sue’s respect has most definitely earned it. All our work experience placements learn one end from the other of a mops, vacuum cleaners, a scrubbing brush, steam cleaner etc. etc. The old hospital ward matron system is alive and well and based within Links Vet Group! However much it is stating the obvious, the most basic foundation of medicine is cleanliness, and no matter how fancy the surgical technique, or impressive the machine, if things aren’t clean, they won’t heal.

In large part, our clientele are very sympathetic to the notion of youngsters gaining hands on experience. They rarely object to their presence during consultations and we endeavour to manage each situation professionally and appropriately, so that for example, we would not tend to have a school pupil present where a conversation between owner and vet is focussing on decisions around quality of life and possible euthanasia was anticipated. I speak for the profession when I express my gratitude towards our clients for their forbearance here. At some point in our training, every vet in the country was that interested but unknowledgeable ‘younger person’ in the room. And, as far as vet students are concerned, it can be the case that these young men and women will be in paid employment, facing delicate situations themselves a matter of months hence, and the more experience they can gain of the concerns and considerations in such cases, the better able they will be to be sound counsellors themselves when the time comes.

Much of the same is true in relation to vet nursing. For as long as I can recall, there have been multitudes of aspiring nurses, both male and female seeking to clock up ‘hands-on’ hours at the practice. For better or worse, the days of casual regular assistance have long since passed and our resources are now focussed directly on individuals who can demonstrate their drive to enter the veterinary nursing profession. A major change in recent years is that the training of nurses has become much more formalised. The past twenty years have seen universities and colleges develop courses in conjunction with private practice, and now the structure of the training provided at further education institutions largely matches the needs of the profession.

As a Veterinary Nurse (VN) Training Practice, Links Vet Group has a contractual obligation to accept undergraduate nurses and to fulfil training, monitoring and testing of agreed procedures and techniques to an agreed standard. It provides the students with a first class exposure to the ‘real world’ of the job they aspire to do, with all the benefits that a working environment peopled with experienced mentors brings. From our perspective, in return for accepting the considerable administrative burdens associated with the placements, we have the opportunity to build relationships with students who will develop knowing our methods and our clients, and in many cases will give us a chance to employ a first rate qualified nurse whom we know and trust and who in many cases will have forged a relationship with many of our clients. The breadth and depth of the formal training given is significant and in fact it has real positive knock on benefits for the wider practice team. As a profession we are all obliged to maintain annual training, study and refreshment, but to my mind, despite the wide range in methods for delivering this, from old fashioned reading, to web based seminars (webinars), nothing ever quite matches the face to face dialogue, where someone who has learned something new, can relate this face to face, and allow a discussion to develop around the subject. It always seems easier to get information to stick that way.

We have had a pretty mixed bag of triumph and disappointment from our young hopefuls this year. We convey our commiserations to those who have been disappointed by their results. However. many congratulations are due to those of you who have achieved what you set your sights on- the new vet students amongst you have a couple of years of freedom from us before we re-acquaint in your clinical years and see you for periods of extra mural study. Likewise for those nurses to be, who have won a place to study locally. As for the older students who have now graduated, we would all wish you the very best of luck as you embark on your careers. I well remember my own graduation, back in the eighties, when a kindly lecturer bestrode the podium at our swearing in ceremony, and sought to reassure a room full of anxious faces by passing on some nuggets of wisdom garnered from a lifetime of lecturing. “Stay calm, observe the patient, make a decision. And remember, above all, the majority of your patients will recover in spite of your treatment choice”!


article glen

Glen Watson
Partner at Links Vet Group